Avoiding the flu

The Fermilab Medical Office will offer flu vaccinations this fall. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The influenza virus, often referred to as the flu, can take you out of action for about three to five days with unpleasant symptoms such as coughing, fever and fatigue. If you have other health issues, it can even land you in the hospital.

Flu spreads on respiratory droplets and most effectively through the air but can also be transmitted via “high-touch” objects such as doorknobs, phones and tabletops. Hand-spread viruses find homes in the nose, mouth or eye mucosal surfaces (the wet area surrounding these areas). Co-workers can limit airborne spread of the flu by having the courtesy to cough into a tissue or the crook of the elbow. Frequent hand washing also helps.

Another effective means to prevent the spread of flu is boosting your immunity to it through vaccination. Here, timing is important as you may wish to have immunity in time for the holidays, when indoor crowding usually goes up, as well as for “prime time,” which in recent years is around March. If you receive your vaccination in the next few weeks, immunity should last through spring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a double peak last season in March and again around May (scroll to the last slide to see the double blip). Locally, we in the Medical Office observed flu-like illness into June.

This year our full vaccine stock has arrived in advance of our flu vaccine campaign. Accordingly, we will offer the vaccine on three days to anyone interested regardless of risk category. We will be administering the Sanofli adult seasonal flu vaccine.

The Center for Disease Control recommends the availability of a dose four times the normal strength for those who are 65 years or older because of the decreased likelihood of an immune response with single-strength vaccine. We will administer the single-strength dose only. So far, CDC confirms higher antibody levels in the high-dose vaccine recipients. CDC cannot yet determine if those higher levels translate to better clinical protection. It plans to weigh in on this around the 2014-2015 season.

Our vaccine goes into the shoulder muscle. There is also a preparation intended for injection just under the skin that we considered but did not select. The intranasal preparation requires a more thorough candidate screening (it contains a live attenuated virus) and may be obtained elsewhere at your doctor’s recommendation.

General vaccination sign-up is for Oct. 2 and 4 in Wilson Hall. A third date has been arranged on Oct. 11 in the Technical Division lunch room. You can sign up for the vaccination here. Details about vaccination sign-up are also available on the Medical Office and the ES&H webpages.

With some prevention effort you can avoid the flu.

Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.